BY INVITATION ONLY No Good Deed- Shadow of the Demon Lord- Prologue

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Sarky

They're good direwolves, Drozzt
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#81
Hair Hair Ragoza Ragoza Chaka Chaka Excession Excession Sideris Sideris
Spite raises an eyebrow at Runt's faithful ministrations, but nods in understanding. "The little stinker is right, best get this over with, for good or ill. Callus will be cooking up surprises for us."

The door is unlocked, but it takes Spite, Orm and Runt to shift its bulk, studded and banded with both iron and lead and big enough to accommodate the giant you just defeated. Spite makes one last check of his weapons, and heads quietly up the stairwell. His companions follow straight after.

Chaka Chaka
Melody clicks and springs back to life. It checks itself, grumbling at its damaged wings, before seeing your face. "Ah. Ruin. Thank you. Has it been long? Oh, I see Corben and Brute are dead, but so is the guardian. Probably a reasonable trade, all considered. I underestimated its strength, and did not expect to survive when it grabbed me."

Excession Excession
With Spite and his companions in the tower, and Melody busy chatting to Ruin, it does occur that all the blood from a freshly killed human and orc are rather going to waste right now.
 

Excession

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#82
RELICT

Cracked and lacerated flesh already knitting back together, Relict is not too proud to take advantage of turned backs and drink his fill of the rapidly cooling blood. Broken bones crack audibly back into place, his nose resets, fresh teeth force their way from bloodied gums.
And without a word, he follows the others into the tower.
 

Chaka

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#83
Ruin

"Just minutes. But you should remain here unless you are able to fly. When you are able, join us above. Or rest and recover."

Ruin nods to Melody, then they follow the others up into the tower.
 

Sarky

They're good direwolves, Drozzt
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#84
Chaka Chaka
Melody makes a sound closely resembling a sigh. "I will accompany you. I am seriously damaged, but I am also very small, and may yet be useful."

Chaka Chaka Excession Excession Ragoza Ragoza Hair Hair Sideris Sideris
Inside the tower is warmly lit. A broad stairwell hugs the inside wall, leaving the bulk of the tower's centre for space. This floor looks to be an office or study, lined with books, scrolls and comfortable-looking furniture. At a glance the reading material is non-magical, mostly treatises on obscure esoteric concepts and Callas' own notes, written in that curious cipher found in the warden's office. On the desk is a large glass jar filled with clear liquid with a slight green tinge. Inside floats a rat that is clearly missing half of its torso. When you near, it begins mindlessly clawing at the glass and gnashing its teeth. A small brass plaque is affixed at the base, with "From Small Beginnings" etched in Common.

All is quiet, but for the flickering of torches and the soft scratching of the dead rat. Beside the stairs downward is a rich-looking dressing gown hanging on a coat hook, with a pair of comfortable slippers underneath. Similarly the stairs upwards has coat hooks embedded in the wall, but are conspicuously empty.

Spite nods at the upwards stairway. "Imperial training, all the magic goes on at the top so only part of the building needs repair if a spell goes tits up. I don't know what tricks he has up his sleeve, but Callas surely knows we're coming. We hadn't reckoned on meeting you, and hopefully he hasn't either. We'll go first, try to occupy him, you follow and catch him off-guard. Just in case: it was good knowing you all."

Spite heads the remainder of his group as they quietly climb the stairway. The next floor is a workshop of some kind, all manner of odd devices and polished lenses, detailed drawings of skeletons and limbs. One workbench displays a metal, multi-jointed arm much like the atrophied limb of the giant corpse you just fought.

Halfway up the next stairs, Spite stops and beckons, cupping a hand to his ear. You can faintly hear voices on the floor above, raised in argument. One of them raised in argument, anyway. As you get closer to the top, the voices resolve into two males. One is certainly human, and very angry. The other is very likely neither.

The large double doors are slightly ajar, and Spite peers in to get the lay of the land. Melody crawls up to the ceiling and silently scuttles inside, Alvin knocks an arrow, ready to loose as soon as Spite signals, his remaining orc fighter by his side.

You catch a whiff of the conversation inside:

"You betrayed me! You sold me out to-"
"I do not betray. Your own incompetence has led you to this moment, Callas. I have given you exactly what was agreed. No renegotiation. No second chances. You would succeed, or you would bear the price of failure. And you have failed."
"I can make it right! Only give me a little more... Damn you! I'll kill you for this! I'll... I'll tear your soul out and throw it into the Void! I'll..."

Any further expletives are cut short by spite and his orc second shouldering open the doors and charging in. Straight after, Alvin looses an arrow. It flies through the flames of a large central brazier and *thunks* into the shoulder of a youngish man in worn, but expensive, robes, lifting him off his feet. He cries out in surprise and pain.

"Treachery!" he shrieks, "Guards, to me!"

A dozen cloth-wrapped guards like you met before make their presence known from alcoves around the tower wall. Swords bang on shields as they converge on the mage to defend him. Spite and the others, already inside, push on to Callas, ignoring them. 5 guards quickly close in, blocking the path between you and them.

Attack and damage roll for the archer:

 

Sideris

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#85
Orm

Orm shakes his head, laughs. His brief stint at raiding comes back to him all at once. "Right, balls to this. LET'S CRACK SOME SKULLS! BLOOD FOR THE BULL SHARKS!" And he lunges forward for the nearest skully and digs the axhead into the thing's collar bone, snapping down into the ribcage.



 
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Hair

Edgepeasant
#86
Retch

Retch unhooks the mage's journal from his belt, holding it up as it opens of its own accord. Acid syllables drip from his nose while he raises his hand to point at Callas, forefinger and pinky extended. Shadows form around the necromancer's head, surging into his facial orifices with the last black word. Retch giggles at the mage's spluttering as the ink spreads across the page, becoming wet once again. The page tears itself loose, dropping to the floor with a soft splat, an unsalvageable lump of black goop, prompting a further snicker from Retch as he pokes at it with a mouldy toenail.

[Casting Drown. Callas must make a Str save or take 1d6+w damage and the Impaired condition]
 
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Ragoza

Quarter goat on my mother's side.
#87
Runt

The Jotun's fury is a joy to behold, the swing of his axe an expression of the Dark Gods' might.
"I knew ya had it in ya cousin!"
Runt lashes his chain at the guard Orm already hit, heavy metal links aimed straight for the head. It goes wide, instead hiting the side of the axehead and ricocheting off.
 

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#88
Ruin

"This is becoming tedious." Ruin narrowly avoids the Orc's flailing chain, stepping past to slam the iron heel of his staff into the wounded guard's skull.



There's a sound like snapping twigs under the cloth as Ruin's thrust continues into the guard's face and finishes up somewhere over the spinal column. The guard drops.
 

Sarky

They're good direwolves, Drozzt
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#89
Light flares around Callas as Runt's incantation splashes off some invisible barrier, and again as Spite and his pals start attacking him. None of the blows seem to land, although the light dims with each strike. Callas raises his hands in arcane patterns and spits out words in Dark Speech that sting even to hear. He points at Spite's orc companion, who nearly doubles over as his skin splits and pointed shards of bone erupt all over his body. Two of the guards take uncanny advantage of his stumble and drive their blades into him, forcing him to his knees. Spite fares little better, his focus on Callas allowing another pair of guards to slice deep wounds across his back.

Alvin Tries to draw a bead on the mage in the chaotic melee, but a guard gets between them and takes his arrow, tearing his shield arm off at the shoulder. He curses and takes a few steps inside to find a better angle. This proves unwise, as a guard peels off from you to attack the newcomer, but the archer manages to dodge the swing. Melody takes advantage of the skeleton's lowered defences to drop from the ceiling onto its head, driving its stiletto stinger straight through the skull and popping out the silver coin inside. It immediately crumples, and Melody disappears in the ensuing puff of dust.

Sideris Sideris
A guard drives its blade in between your ribs, but an errant twitch on your part causes it to scrape painfully, but fairly harmlessly, across the bone instead.


Take 1 damage

Chaka Chaka
A guard attempts to hack your head from your metal shoulders. The blade strikes true, biting deep into the wires and springs of your neck.

Ragoza Ragoza
One of the guards takes a stab at you, but it is deflected off the chain wrapped around your fist.

Excession Excession
Another guard dances in and slices down across your torso, biting painfully deep. If your intestines hadn't effectively atrophied, they would probably be spilling out around your feet right now. These animated bones show a level of combat finesse you would have considered beyond them. What has Callas been up to?

The two remaining guards, unable to reach melee at first, step into the openings provided by the destruction of their colleagues, one squaring off against Retch, the other teaming up with Runt's opposite.

[Slow turns now. That's just Excession Excession this time]








Down to 5 health.



Down to 22 health.


One of the guards near Callas now has 5 health and defence lowered to 11.


The armless guard is down. Melody uses Exploit Opportunity to take a hide action, as the attack roll was 20+ and beat defence by 5+.

 

Sideris

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#90
Orm

Grunting almost-approval, the jotun nods at the sack of bones before spitting in its face. "Gonna have to try harder, bone meal."
 

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#91
RELICT

Incensed at the pointless damage to a perfectly good doublet, Relict's face contorts into a rictus of inhuman savagery, and he tears at the guard in furious anger.

Hit, rolled 4 damage
 

Sarky

They're good direwolves, Drozzt
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#92
Excession Excession Sideris Sideris Ragoza Ragoza Hair Hair Chaka Chaka

The cloth-wrapped guards drive their swords at Spite's companion again and again, his attempts to parry growing ever weaker as his blood pours away. He flings his weapon and shield at his attackers, yelling "GRIMNIR'S EYE!" as they stumble.

Immediately Spite disengages and dives away from Callas, taking another slash from the guards. His dying friend tears a satchel from his belt and hurls it at his feet, and the world goes bright orange.

The back half of the room is engulfed in flame and smoke, and even the line of guards attacking you is hurled to the ground by the shockwave. The dim light of day pours in through a gaping hole in the side of the tower, wind and rain quickly damping down the smoke. The guards are where they fell, twitching and flailing as if trying to obey a dozen voices at once. Spite is on his knees by the far wall, coughing and spitting blood and teeth and one arm dangling uselessly. There are few traces of his companion remaining. You never got his name.

Callas is still alive, his magical wards shielding him from the bulk of the detonation but very much spent now. Scorched and bleeding, one leg clearly broken, he is slowly, frantically trying to crawl towards the hole in the wall on shattered fingers.
 

Hair

Edgepeasant
#93
Retch

Retch staggers back as the orc explodes, trips over the step behind him. After completing an awkward, involuntary, backwards somersault he crawls back up the few steps. Peeking over the top of the staircase he opens the final page of the mage's stolen journal. He chuckles uncontrollably as he begins chanting the incantation inscribed in the lining of the back cover. His mirth is eclipsed by piercing syllables of Dark Speech, though the odd gurgle slips through nonetheless. As Retch's whine reaches a crescendo everyone in the room feels a deep pressure building behind their eyes, before he flings his hand out to Callas, forefinger and pinky extended. This motion, unfortunately, unbalances his precarious tottering on the stair, and as his nose meets the floor in front of him he misses the gout of gore that erupts from His Magical Cuntooze Callas's eye sockets, limning the hole in the wall with a viscous pinkish goop.

Casting Vision's End, dealing 5 damage to Callas, presumably ending his time on this lovely earth.
 

Sarky

They're good direwolves, Drozzt
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#94
Hair Hair
Callas flips wailing onto his back, hands clutching at the pitiful mess where his eyes used to be. The explosion looks to have stripped away most of the skin on the left side of his face, raw and oozing. He tries to retaliate but his broken fingers fudge the casting and his spell dissipates harmlessly. He flops back on the ground, and takes a few ragged, sobbing breaths.

Then he begins to laugh.
 

Sideris

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#95
Orm

"Well fuck us."
 

Chaka

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#96
Ruin

The clockwork watches the mage laugh as his eyes run down his cheeks.

"That is deeply disconcerting."
 

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#97
RELICT

Dispassionately, the vampire paces over to the cackling Callas, gives him an appraising look, and hefts him up by the collar like a sack of flour.
He glances to the others, one arch brow raised as if to invite objection.
And then drains what little life remains to heal the ragged wound in his midsection.
 

Ragoza

Quarter goat on my mother's side.
#98
Runt

"Weird fucking pinks."
 

Sarky

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#99
Excession Excession
The blood does its job, but you can't help but notice an aftertaste; Unusually brackish. Some sort of illness, perhaps. Somewhat unusual for your food to smile back, but callas seems to have finally gotten the punchline to some great joke.
The mage only struggles reflexively, too weakened, or perhaps just unwilling to put up meaningful resistance. The cackling subsides into a gurgle, and then silence but for Relict's feeding. The remaining guards stop twitching, truly dead once more.



Chaka Chaka Excession Excession Sideris Sideris Ragoza Ragoza Hair Hair

Spite has managed to sit himself up against a wall. The blast was somewhat kinder to him for having dived away, but he's still a mess of cuts and bruises, wincing when he speaks. "Alvin. Signal the army. Flag from the hole in the wall should do." Alvin produces said cloth, the grey fabric with sword insignia, and hangs it over the edge, weighed down with loose stones. Soon enough the dull boom of siege weapons and clang of metal on metal cease, cries of victory springing up in their wakes. Alvin busies himself fixing a sling for Spite's arm. Melody scuttles down from the roof onto Spite's good shoulder. It is missing a leg and appears to be unable to speak, but will recover.

"What a fucking mess. He expected the army outside. Not so much a small force of infiltrators. Even then, we'd probably have failed if we hadn't bumped into you lot. Me and what's left of my company, we owe you. Come on back to camp, we'll make sure nobody shoots at you, and get you fixed up and a good meal into you." He glances sideways at Relict. "Especially when we find whoever tipped off Callas. After that? Well, you're free as far as I'm concerned."

Leaning on Alvin for support, Spite limps back downstairs and outside. Already soldiers are tearing the place apart, dumping anything of value into tarpaulins to drag back to the camps. They are dressed noticeably differently from Spite and his companions. A "proper" army as opposed to freelancers. None dare gainsay his word though as you pass through the lines. Runners and servants take care of the little details and before long you all find yourselves in a comfortable (relative to being chained to a wall) barracks, with hot food, ale, healers for the fleshbags and an engineer of some sort for Ruin. Relict is invited to the execution of some deserters and a spy that were rooted out over the day's events. Spite appears to have been put in charge of that, and makes it clear that he doesn't mind whether he decaptitates them before or after they're dead. You drink your fill, and then some.

The night is greeted with the burning of Callas' fortress, providing ample light for celebrations. Here and there you note smaller bonfires, probably piles of skeleton guards or larger abominations. You are roundly toasted as the heroes of the day, sneaked in to the loot piles more than once to take your pick, and generally shown a rollicking good time into the small hours.

The next morning is similarly overcast but dry. You are treated with breakfast, a small pack of travelling provisions, and a slap on the back for good luck as free creatures of the Patchwork Lands for as long as you can defend that freedom from the score or more of petty kingdoms, baronies and counties composing them. Spite says he is still under contract to the Blue Order, apparently the name of the military of some local baron or other, but, should he survive the next month, he intends to take a break in a small town on the southern border of Balgrendia called Murkwell and might have a job for you. But for now, it's farewell.

The lands of Rhúl stretch out before you. Who knows what the future brings?


[Everyone heals up, the group reaches level 1! ]

General:
1 gold crown worth of cash;
The travelling army was willing to trade the curious silver coins found in the undead guard skulls for legal tender at a fair exchange rate. A few silver shillings swapped owners during the night's victory celebrations thanks to beer, wagers, bribes to steal some of the loot from the tower.
(For reference, 1 gold crown = 10 silver shillings. 1ss = 10 copper pennies, 1cp = 10 bits. 1gc could purchase a suit of mail (Defense 15), a crossbow or bastard sword. It's a lot of money if you're not a merchant or noble.)

Soft or Hard Leather Armour for everyone;
Hard Leather requires Str 11 and gives [Agility+2] Defense, soft requires nothing and gives [Agility+1]. There is even a set big enough for a jotun; a runic story carved in circular patterns across the chestpiece declare it to have once belonged to Brani of the Bloody Stump, a reaver who lost his arm killing a mighty kraken.

A healing potion

Basic tools relevant to any new professions gained

A map of the region;
Before leaving you to your new fates, Spite handed you a map of the region so you could get your bearings. You appear to be slightly southeast of the centre of the Patchwork Lands. There is very little in the way of travel infrastructure beyond mud tracks connecting villages and the odd small castle of some petty lordling. Spite warned that the Black Hand, the notorious assassin's guild, had been operating in the more western kingdoms, where his army is now headed. Almost directly north is where the Patchwork Lands meet the borders of the Empire and Balgrendia. The Empire's March Lands are studded with fortresses and armed forces, and it's well known that every able-bodied inhabitant must serve at least 3 years in the military. Meanwhile Balgrendia is defined by thick forests and marshlands, and superstitious people who prefer not to pry too deeply in case they discover something.

Chaka Chaka
While rooting through the spoils, you come across a matched pair of long, pointed, single-edged knives, designed for slashing and thrusting, and balanced for dual-wielding. Close inspection reveals they are especially suited to thrusting, as the blunt edges contain a groove into which one might apply poisons.

Sideris Sideris
Aside from the armour, there's very little in the way of weaponry for a mighty jotun. In the end, you do find a zweihander large enough for you to use as a one-handed sword, although it is certainly not balanced like one. It is however sharp, made of good steel, and everyone who sees it resting casually in one meaty fist gives you a satisfyingly wide berth.

Hair Hair
Rifling through all the written material you could get your hands on from the loot, you pick out a number of promising books and scrolls. Though all are written in multiple codes, you manage to decipher enough to know that they offer insight into magical theories, various traditions of sorcery, and spells. In addition, you find a scroll bearing what is definitely an incantation of some kind, but who's nature you cannot currently fathom; It refuses to resolve fully into a language you know. Parts of it that do suggest something to do with flame.

Ragoza Ragoza
It is no effort at all to find a nice hefty battleaxe in the loot from the tower. There were certainly orc prisoners before you, as you choose a weapon clearly designed more for a mighty orc warrior than some whimpering pinkskin.
But most of all, you feel the burning certainty that in defying your captor and surviving to see him slaughtered like livestock, you have gained the attention of the gods, who wait patiently to see what you will do next.

Excession Excession
The first night, when you take some time to yourself in the darkness, you hear soft, unearthly whispering from the reliquary you have held on to for who knows how long. You spend over an hour examining it, straining to hear the sibilant voice that seems to emanate from it, and though the language is foreign to you, nonetheless images and thoughts that were not your own burn coldly in your mind. You do not think the bone is of your mysterious sire, but it is connected to him somehow. This relic is a key to something beyond mere magic, of that you can be certain.
 
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Ragoza

Quarter goat on my mother's side.
Runt

Nothing warms Runt's stunted little heart quite like seeing an Imperial Mage die a gruesome death. After his first hot meal and mug of beer in weeks and a quick rummage in the lootpiles he slips out of camp with his shiny new battleaxe he slips out of the camp for a few hours, finding a secluded spot about half an hour from the fortress. Alone in the dark he builds a small campfire in front of an isolated boulder, carving the details of Callas' demise into the stone beneath Grimnir's rune by the flickering light.

As he carves the soft limestone with a battered dagger the ever-present whispering on the edge of his mind grows in volume. The events of the day begin to shine in a more esoteric light as he carves, the subtle hand of fate ever more visible. By time he records Callas's gory, miserable death it is clear that this prison break was part of Grimnir's plan from the start. The whispering of the gods rises to a roar and Runt falls to his knees before the stone, knife in hand.

O̤̪̠̦F͘F̝̳͎̥͓̬E̜͈͙R̦͚̘̩̰̣̺ ͇̯͔͕̺͙̪U̖̮̤̤̺͕̟͡P̜̼͕̖̮̮ ̜͚͓͙̕Y̮͟Ơ͚̮U̻͈̦R̟̠͖ ̻͔̫̼̞F̛̳̬͇̺A̻̱͍TȨ̙̠͇̤,͏͙ ̷O̧̤R̡͔̪C̥̱̩͖͞.̨ ̹͓̙̣̘͎̞

With a croak and a rustle of feathers a crow alights on the stone, three beady eyes glinting in the firelight. Runt doesn't blink as the knife sinks into the flesh of his chest, beginning to carve. The crow's eyes shine black, seeing into the chaotic depths of the Orc's soul.

Y̳̹O̺̬̝Ṷ̪̜͓̝̟ ͇̻̦W̘I̹L̼͕͓̼̲͙̱̀L̙̪̦̭̬͍̩̀ ̮F̯̮̗͔̬͔̲̕I̱̜̰̦̯G̙͎̜̦̮H̤̱̬̭T̻͇͢.̨͍ ̤͍̗Y̮͕̙͈̝͖ͅO̞̲͖̰̰̮U͖̯̪͚͉̰ W̹̪̖̙͈̱͈I̡̗̩̰͙̫L̨͈̟L͎ ̧̳B͏̟̤L͎͙̝͖̹͠E̹̙͎͔E̶Ḓ͎͕̥.͈͕̹̱͇ Y̸̰̼̹̲O̠͉̬͙̘̰̣U̖ ̝͍̻͖W̸̳̭̜I̧͇͓L̤̜̰̥̲L̖̖̘ ̺̳͎̟̹S̝̦̤͕ͅU̖̖͚̳F̩̯̻̮͙̳̺͘F̟̫̥̮É͍̻̠̱R̛̝ͅ ̭̞F̥̦̫̙ͅOR̶̝̲͍̘̻ ̡̖̩̗͕̭Y҉̼̜͔̥̱O̧U̦R͚ ̙̞̻̮P̟̫̭͎͙̹͞L̖͈͈̺Ḁ̤C̲͍̘͞E̡̤̗ ͔̯̺̻̤̬I̟N ̻̟̬͈͘ͅV͟A̯̙͔̘͖̪L҉̖̦͚HA͍̺͢L̳̺̲͚̰L̸͈̤̗A͎͓͓̫̜̪̻.̖̹̜͚̻͜

Slowly, deliberately he drags the knife through his skin, blood shining red against ash grey flesh. Day turns to night, night to day, communion with his merciless God is both instant and eternal. Still the orc cuts, a three pointed knot taking shape on his lean chest.

Y̱̯̙̮͕̜O̖̱̩͇U͓̬͔̟̖R ҉̪̭͈͔D͓͚O̴̬͎O͉͔̟̗̤͚̩M̱̲̪͇͡ͅ ̭͎͖I̛̻͇͔S̨͈͕̮͙͇̮ ̬͇M̷̠̯̠͉̗̖̹I̪̲̕NE͍̠,̟̞̙͍͖͉̤ ͉̫̣͡ͅO̧R̩͕͎̤̟͙͞C̪̜.̩̲͚̘̞̦̮ ̠͕YO̬͇̳̝͞U̯̙̼̕ ̝͙̤̀W͇̮͈I̵Ḷ̵̪͎̳̯L̷͈̜͉̥͙ ̸̤͕̙B͖̹͇̀E͖̲̼̬̞̠̠ ̵̜̤̬̦R͙̜̹̘̻A̺̗̘̬Ģ͖̥̰̮̞E̛,́ B̲̖R͙U҉̤̠T͔͔A̦̱L̤̮̜̝͕̰ ̬͍A̰̻̰̻͍͜N͔D̝̩͢ͅ ̠̘̪̗͕͕̙W͕̞̝̟I̟̝̹̪T̴͔͎̤H̺̗̻͎͖͜ͅǪ̘U̙̪͍̥͉̤Ṯ̙̝̯̮ ̵̬̼͉̘M̪E͔̺̠̜͞ͅR̠̣̹C̵̤̯͔Y͍͕̠.̟̫͇̟̖̠̼ ̯͜ͅG̦͎͓O͓͙̲͓͙͚ ̸͖̠͍F̹̟͝ͅO҉͚RT͕͎̣̳͉̫H̢͓̥̠͈̖ͅ,̝̬ ͔̘̘͉͈̘̀ͅP̩̟̥̙R͖̯I̷̮̳̮E̫͈̼̺̖Ș̤͔͖̀T̗̖.̥ ̵͍̙̙R͖̣͖͚̰̮I͟P҉ ͇̫̻͕̬A͎̣͍̩͖̬͉N̦͚̯Ḑ̹̞̖̪͉ T͉̦̼͈̫͇̟E͖̭̻̯̹A̳̜̼͕̜R̪͔̤ ͚͍͚̣͈̺̜̀U̦N͖̪̳͍͜T̰̩̻̞Í̙͔̙͈L ̤̲̤̲̱͉I̡̦̗͓T̨̩̗̲͓ ̟̜I͕̮̣̰S̖̫̮̖͍ ͙D͓̮͈̜̬̪̟O̩̦̬Ṋ̖E͍̳̰̺͉.

Grey morning light. The cold ashes of a campfire before a lonely monolith, emblazened with a grisly tale. A lone orc, the triquetra scarred into his chest. Runt stands, picks up his axe and walks away, ears ringing with the laughter of thirsting gods.